Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015: Methodology

How we crunched the numbers to determine the winners

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MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2015 is the most comprehensive data-driven snapshot of Canadian cities you’ll find anywhere. This year, we added eight cities and towns to grow our 209 cities.

While we can’t gauge many of the elements that people enjoy in their cities, the nearness of family, the friendliness of neighbours or even great sunsets, we have measured what can be measured and compared what can be compared from towns and cities across our provinces and territories. To identify the Best Places to Live in Canada we rank each community across 34 separate categories to get a detailed picture of what life is like in each community.

To come up with the ranking, we gathered information on Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA), Census Agglomeration (CA) and Census Subdivisions, (CSD) as defined by Statistics Canada. All of the demographic data was supplied by Environics Analytics. Additional data sources are noted below.

The pie chart below illustrates how we weigh each category group for the main list:

We ranked each city against its peers and overall. A small city is defined as those cities with a population below 100,000, a mid-size city has a population between 100,001 and 400,000 and a large city has a minimum population of 400,001.

In addition to our highly popular Best Places to Live, we continue to showcase the Best Places to Raise Kids and Best Places to Retire lists, and the Best Places for New Immigrants.

What’s new

MoneySense is constantly on the lookout for new communities to include in our annual ranking. This year we added Comox, B.C., Erin, Ont., Nelson, B.C., Orangeville, Ont., Port Credit, Ont., Selkirk, Man., Spruce Grove, Alta. and Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., bringing the total number of communities we rank to 209.

One of the key metrics we track is unemployment, but the most recent complete data set for all 209 cites dates back to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey. We think you’ll agree that a lot has changed since then. The unemployment figures used for this report are not the official rates; they are MoneySense estimates. To come up with these estimates we looked to trends in the job market in the economic region around each city over the past four years and then adjusted the NHS 2011 unemployment data accordingly.

These economic regions are updated monthly by Statistics Canada and track census boundaries. The economic region that includes Edmonton for example, would also include St. Albert and Strathcona County, but not the heavy oil areas to the north like Fort McMurray, Alta. Good thing too, since unemployment in Wood Buffalo, Alta., which includes Fort McMurray, has jumped by 40% since 2011, whereas Edmonton’s unemployment rates have actually improved to 5.3% from 6.1% over that same period.

Over the years some readers expressed frustration that we use average instead of median household income figures, given that averages can get distorted when there is a large concentration of wealth in a given area. We listened and made the switch this year. Although readers anticipated the switch would result in a significant change in our ranking, that wasn’t the case. For more than three-quarters of the cities the difference between the average household income data was within 20% of the median household income data. The top five cities on our ranking were completely unaffected by the switch. Overall fewer than a quarter of the cities we track moved more than five positions our ranking due to this change; less than 4% of the 209 cities we track moved more than 10 positions.

Lastly, daycare costs collected from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit were updated for inflation.

The calculations

A total of 103 points was up for grabs. Each category (below) was allotted a number of points depending on the importance of the category. For example, employment statistics are worth 10 points while sales taxes are worth 1 point. Some categories are further broken into subcategories. For example, the crime category is determined by statistics in the subcategories of violent crime, crime severity and total crime.

The top city in each category received the maximum number of points, and the rest of the cities received descending incremental points based on their ranking.

For example, in the area of unemployment, Swift Current, Sask., had the lowest estimated unemployment rate in the country (2.5%). It was ranked No. 1 in that category and received 10 points. The second-best city in the unemployment category, Yorkton, Sask., received 9.95 points. The next city was Fort St. John, B.C.. with 9.90 points and so on, down to the 209th city (Campbellton, on the New Brunswick/Quebec border, has an estimated unemployment rate of 19.4%), which received no points.

Calculations for some other categories follow a slightly different methodology. For example, in the category of population growth over the past five years, an annual rate of 7.5% was considered ideal. Anything below or above that rate loses points and cities with a population loss receive zero. The same is true for the subcategory of precipitation, which makes up part of the weather category. (The ideal number is 700 mm a year, with anything above or below that level losing points accordingly.) As well, 5 points were awarded on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

While a perfect score in all categories would give a city 103 points, the top city this year, Boucherville, Que., only garnered 71.94 points followed closely by Ottawa at 71.29 points. Our lowest ranking city, New Glasgow, N.S., scored 33.51 points.

Categories and points

POPULATION GROWTH: 8 points—Results are based on the average Canadian population growth rate across all cities on our list over the past five years (6.2%), plus 2 percentage points. Higher growth rates create problems as cities struggle to provide services to growing populations. Lower growth rates means less opportunities. Cities with negative growth received 0 points. Source: Environics Analytics and 2011 Statistics Canada figures

WALK/BIKE TO WORK: 6 points—This represents the percentage of people who walked or took their bike to work. Source: Environics Analytics

ESTIMATED UNEMPLOYMENT: 10 points — Source: Environics Analytics, National Household Survey 2011, adjusted by MoneySense using Statistics Canada data

MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME: 5 points—Source: Environics Analytics

DISCRETIONARY INCOME: 5 points—Source: Environics Analytics

HOUSING: 12 points—(6 for average house prices and 6 for time to buy a house) House price data provided by Environics Analytics. Housing data is based on the census estimate for every community at the end of 2011, correcting for changes within the community including age, occupations, and information from local real estate boards. Time to buy was derived from average home price divided by average estimated household income.

WEATHER: 10 points—(2 points for the ideal amount of precipitation, 3 points for the number of days with rain, 1 point for days with precipitation of any kind, three points for days above 0°C, and 1 point fro days above 20°C). Ideal volume of precipitation is considered to be 700 mm per year. Source: Environment Canada

TRANSIT: 5 points—Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit. Source: Environics Analytics

NEW CARS: 1 point—New cars on the road as of July 2013. New cars were deemed to be vehicles with model years 2011-2013. Ranking of new cars is based on the percent total vehicles. Source: IHS Automotive, Driven by Polk

NEW LUXURY CARS: 1 point—Percentage of new luxury cars on the road as of July 2013. New cars were deemed to be vehicles with model years 2011-2013. Ranking of new cars is based on the percent total vehicles. Source: IHS Automotive, Driven by Polk

INCOME TAXES: 3 points—Cities ranked (lower is better) according to the rate of combined federal and provincial (or territorial) income tax paid on a single person income of $50,000. Source: www.taxtips.ca

SALES TAXES: 1 point—Cities ranked (lower is better) according to the rate of provincial or territorial sales tax.

PROPERTY TAX RATE: 2 points—Cities with a lower property tax rate were awarded the highest marks. Source: Environics Analytics

PROPERTY TAX PAID AS A % OF INCOME: 1 point—To determine how much of a burden the property tax was to the average homeowner we determine the how much of the average household income goes towards paying property tax.

CRIME: 7 points—Violent crime rates (2 points), total crime rates per 100,000 people (2 points), the five-year change in the crime rate (1 point) and crime severity rates (2 point) for 2010. (Lower is better in all three cases.) Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics

DOCTORS: 5 points—Number of general practice and specialist physicians per community (5 points) and converted to doctors per 1,000 people. Source: Canadian Medical Association

HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: 4 points—Percentage of people in each city who are employed in health occupations. Source: Environics Analytics

NUMBER OF DOCTORS OFFICES PER ’000: 1 point—The number of medical offices in a community divided by the population. Source: Environics Analytics

AMENITIES: 6 points—Two points for a hospital, 1 point each for university and college. Cities in a CMA area received credit if a particular institution was located anywhere in the CMA. Half a point was given to cities with a movie theatre. Cities could also earn up to 1.5 points for being within close proximity to an airport serviced by one of Canada’s national carriers: Air Canada or WestJet. Cities within 50 km of an airport received 1.5 points, communities within 100 km received 1 point and cities within 200km received half a point.

CULTURE: 5 points—A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports. Source: Environics Analytics

Best Places to Raise Kids

This calculation included the additional categories such as child care spaces, population 14 and under, percentage of students,
the number of daycare spaces for 1,000, the number of regulated day care space for children aged 0 to 5, average day care cost and the percentage of families with kids. Daycare costs were adjusted for inflation using data from Statistics Canada.

Note some of the statistics are available at the provincial level. Sources: Environics Analytics and the Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada 2012 (Revised 2013) space statistics published by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit www.childcarecanada.org.

The pie chart below illustrates how we weigh each category group for our Best Places to Raise Kids list:


Best Places to Retire

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for retirees.

Best Places for New Immigrants

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for immigrants. This category considers the ethnic make up of a city as measured by the percentage of the population who say their first language is other than English or French. We also factor in the most current rental market information, examining things like average cost to rent a 1-bedroom apartment and the vacancy rates for each city. This information was collected from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

9 comments on “Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015: Methodology

  1. do not wish to buy another home but rather lease one or an apt. complex

    Reply

  2. Cape Breton is not a town or city.

    Reply

  3. Is there any way to get a detailed summary of the results for a community on the list?

    Reply

  4. Your population growth metric is interesting. It follows a ‘growth is good’ economic fixation. With this thinking the largest cities in the planet would be the best places to live which is obviously not the case, i.e. these are cities in China. Community ‘best places to live’ do not need to have growth to be successful. For future studies please do research to document success in this area.

    Reply

    • Hi Roy,
      We consider growth to be good, but not growth at any cost. For that reason, our methodology actually awards cities that grow at a prescribed median rate of about 7%. Less than that or more than that and the city gets a lower score in this category. Hope this helps.

      Reply

  5. On “Best Places to Retire”, for the three criteria listed (property tax, doctor ratio, and weather) Ottawa scores much lower than Victoria. How come Ottawa is listed as #1 and Victoria #4 ?

    Reply

  6. is it possible to get the excel spreadsheet with the data from stats Canada and Environics.last year this file was available however I have not been able to find in your article for 2015 data

    Reply

    • Sorry Cat. The file will not be made available by MoneySense.

      Reply

  7. One of the things I wondered about was how the area boundaries for each city were determined. Was it based on the actual city or city and adjoining regional area? If the regional area was included in the census statistics, was that consistently applied across all city rankings? The reason I ask, is because by including the regional district stats, it grossly affects our city ranking as our regional district includes three other small towns that have low employment rates and crazy high house prices because they are some of the most beautiful places in the country to live (ie. Tofino).

    Reply

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